Thalasinos is a professor of Sociology at Madison College in Wisconsin. However, her true passion is her huskies and writing fiction. Her website is www.andreathalasinos.com.
I'd like to welcome Andrea Thalasinos, who is writing about books and libraries today.
I remember sitting in the high school lunchroom the first week of 10th grade wondering “how in the hell am I going to get through three more years of this #*&%?” Profound boredom propelled me to seek refuge in, of all places, the high school library. At first I checked out authors I’d heard of like Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Hardy and read through each one.
Next I was drawn to the Existentialists. Perhaps because I’d always felt a bit like The Stranger (Camus). Then I discovered that there was no better place for an introverted misfit than finding asylum in the stacks. The collective smell of book bindings, cloth covers and paper (which Kindles and e-readers are yet to simulate) were intoxicating. It was a sanctuary in which I could hide while cutting class (which I frequently did to the tune of graduating in the bottom half of my class) or grapple with the alienation that so often plagues the coming-of-age.
One day while checking out more books, the school librarian asked if I’d like to work as a volunteer student helper. I’d be re-shelving books, checking books out for students and performing other tasks that needed doing. Talk about heaven. Wandering through the stacks in awe, touching, smelling and getting lost in what felt like forests I now had a place to be, a job with a purpose and most of all—the right to check out as many books at a time as I wanted.
I soon shifted gears into Dostoevsky, Gogol, Hesse, Camus. And while my teenage mind struggled to understand, I had a sneaking suspicion that there were deeper meanings that I’d yet to grasp because of limited life experience. But knowing that didn’t stop me. I plunged deeper into the Existentialists in 11th grade, perhaps because of a myriad of continuing family crises. I’d read Samuel Beckett while sitting on a park bench pondering the true meaning of Waiting for Godot. I’d read Kafka, with one of my favorites being The Metamorphosis. I remember being astounded at how the primary concern of the salesman (who awakens one morning to find he’s turned into an insect) was limited to that of people finding out.
The librarian had remarked as to how curious it was that I was reading such heavy literature while most girls my age were drawn to Jane Austen. And while lacking the presence of mind for a good come-back (unlike today’s kids), I remember wondering why she would ask such a thing when these were part of the school’s collection too.
While I’ve since read hundreds of things and no longer remember the precise plot twists, characters and themes, a piece of each one of these works remains with me. Reading helped fuel my curiosity about the world and about my place in it. And it’s precisely that hunger that drives me on to discover new insights from the works of Marilyn Robinson, Russell Banks, Daniel Woodrell, J.M. Coetzee and Elizabeth Strout. Someone once said, ‘Everything’s already been written and done. What’s new is in the telling—the perspective, the insight and to have the guts and rawness to say what’s real, to tell the unspeakable truth.’ I’d like to think that all those years spent struggling with ideas was precisely the thing I needed. Thank you to that high school librarian who reached out. She gave me the chance to become larger than what I was and to develop what would become a life-long passion, one that never wears thin or gets old.
Thank you, Andrea. And, thank you to that school librarian as well.
Traveling Light by Andrea Thalasinos. Forge. 2013. ISBN 9780765333025 (hardcover), 368p.